GEORGIA — When15-year-old Juan Guzman posted that he would like to kill his French teacher onhis personal Web log, it was just a figure of speech, he said.
Butadministrators at his Athens high school were not willing to take any chances.On Wednesday, Guzman was informed he is being transferred from Cedar Shoals HighSchool to the district’s alternative school, a school officialsaid.
Guzman was suspended last week after administrators becameaware of a ”very threatening” blog entry he posted about his teacheron the community journal Web site xanga.com.
Cedar Shoals PrincipalTommy Craft, who did not return numerous messages from the Student Press LawCenter, told the Athens Banner-Heraldthat he was following the district’s code of conduct in suspending Guzmanand that two other students were subsequently suspended for posting copycat blogentries in sympathy.
Guzman said he did write in a months-old blogentry that he would like to kill his teacher, but he was just venting his angerabout a teacher with whom he had butted heads in the classroom.
Theteacher responded to an interview request from the SPLC with an e-mail thatsaid, ”I am not at liberty to discuss details of this situation since itis still under investigation within the school district.”
Guzman said he does not know how his blog was brought to theattention of teachers or administrators. He said he does not think that studentsshould be punished in school for what they post on sites like xanga.com.
”It’s our privacy,” Guzman said, ”Theyshouldn’t be worrying about what we’rewriting.”
Mike Wooten, district public relations director, saidit would be irresponsible if the district looked the otherway.
”Imagine if a school district didn’t do anything. Wehave to err on the side of safety,” Wooten said. ”The analogy is, Idoubt anyone would post anything like this against a high-ranking official orthe president and not expect to get a visit from theCIA.”
Guzman wrote an apology to the teacher last week at theprincipal’s request.
”I’m really sorry for what Iwrote and that I never meant to make her think that. Even though she thinks Idon’t like her, I really do,” Guzman said.
After thesuspension, the Athens Banner-Heraldreported that students at Cedar Shoals called the suspension an attack onfree speech and showed their support by wearing ”Free Juan”T-shirts.
Wooten said administrators are not trying to block freespeech.
”We’re certainly not trying to stifleanyone’s right to express their opinion in any way,” Wooten said.”But we do feel there are appropriate ways to do that. You cross the linewhen you rather graphically threaten to do someone bodilyharm.”
On Wednesday, Juan and his parents met with schoolofficials and were informed that he would be transferred to the district’salternative school. The school is designed to modify behavior and eventuallyfeed students back to their home school within a year, Wootensaid.
Guzman said he is upset about his punishment and leaving theschool where he has made friends since moving from Peru three years ago. Guzmansaid he is a good student and was planning on starting Advanced Placementclasses. The alternative school does not offer AP classes.
Guzmanalready deleted the xanga.com entry and said his blogging days areover.
”I’m not going to post anything anymore,” hesaid. ”I didn’t really know it would cause that much trouble.”
—by Emily Walker, SPLC staff writer